Labor 2004: Theres a new kid on the block

The movement to defeat George Bush in November 2004 got another boost on Oct. 6 when the Voices for Working People Coalition (VWPC) announced its arrival on the electoral battlefield.

“We will provide an opportunity to raise a unified voice for social and economic justice,” Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, told reporters at a press conference announcing the formation of the coalition.

McEntee said the coalition would concentrate on 16 “battleground” states that are decisive in the 2004 elections. “We will work in congressional and local elections,” he said, “But most of our effort will be directed at getting George Bush out of the White House.”

Voices for Working Families is a 527 organization – the tax code designation for organizations that are sprouting like spring flowers now that campaign finance reform has banned the GOP and Democratic Party from collecting soft money to fund voter registration and mobilization campaigns. It is also one of three groups – the others are Partnership for America’s Families and Grassroots Democrats – that enjoy the support of the AFL-CIO.

In addition to McEntee, the coalition’s board members include Myrlie Edgar-Williams, NAACP president emeritus; Bill Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; Gloria Johnson, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women; the presidents of a dozen unions and several public figures, including New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Geraldine Ferraro, Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1984; and Bill Lann Lee, former attorney general for civil rights. Linda Chavez-Thompson, AFL-CIO executive vice president, is the group’s treasurer.

AFL-CIO participation in these coalitions has its roots in a statement adopted at the February meeting of its Executive Council: “[W]e recognize that in addition to mobilizing union households and making broad appeals to the public we must directly engage millions of people who have not been able to secure union recognition. … The labor movement intends, through both proven means and new initiatives, to restore government that reflects the aspirations of working people and respects their contributions.”

McEntee said the coalition would work to register and educate voters

in working families whether they belong to unions or not and, as Election Day nears, will mount a massive get-out-the-vote campaign. He said coalition partners plan to reach households in targeted communities with at least 10 personal contacts. Particular emphasis will be put on people of color, working women and young workers who, McEntee said, are being “disproportionately hammered” by the economy.

“This is America,” McEntee said, “where every man and woman is entitled to the power of the vote and where every voter carries the possibility of change.”

Earlier McEntee laid out the coalition’s bill of particulars on the impact of the Bush administration’s assault on working families: Among the long list of charges. The loss of 3.3 million jobs since George Bush moved into the White House, 11 million workers without jobs, 43 million people uninsured, 49 states forced to raise college tuition fees.

Both McEntee and Richardson spoke of the growing importance of what they called “communities of color” who, they said, “make up larger and more influential segments of the voting public.”

Richardson, a leader of the Moving America Forward Coalition, said, “No party can take the Latino vote for granted. It will take more than the ability to speak a little Spanish for candidates to win their vote.” He added the coalition had set a goal of registering a half-million Latino voters in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Florida and Nevada.

McEntee declined to give a direct answer to a reporter’s question about the coalition’s choice for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. “We think all of the candidates have cleared a substantial bar on issues of importance to working families such as universal health care, minimum wage, trade, Medicare, education. Working families believe that any one of them would be better than the man who is in there [the White House] now.”

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com